Boller engineers comeback win over Cowboys

BALTIMORE -- Kyle Boller kept insisting that the Baltimore Ravens would awaken from a slumber induced by a gruesome injury, costly fumbles and star runner Jamal Lewis being relegated to a bicycle.

Instead of dwelling on Lewis being out with a sprained ankle, Musa Smith's painful compound fracture of his tibia and trailing 3-0 at halftime to the hapless Dallas Cowboys, Boller spoke about igniting a comeback.

The oft-criticized Boller backed up his words, delivering two touchdown passes in the third quarter as the Ravens surged to a 30-10 victory over the Cowboys (3-7) on Sunday before 69,924 at M&T Bank Stadium. In sparking a string of 30 points before a belated Dallas answer, Baltimore improved to 7-3 for the first time in franchise history, in part, by exploiting the timely miscues of veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "Kyle was very confident at halftime," said Kevin Johnson, the beneficiary of one of Boller's well-timed throws in the third quarter for a touchdown. "He felt like he was in a rhythm. Anytime you have your quarterback feeling that way, you've got to let it loose and the coaches let him loose and he did an excellent job with the pressure."

Boller manufactured one of his best outings as the Ravens won their third game in a row to remain two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. The 23-year-old's confidence appears to be growing as he completed 23 of 34 passes for 232 yards, a 106.5 passer rating and no interceptions for the third week in a row. In the third quarter, the Ravens were resurgent. They outgained the Cowboys in offensive yardage, 163 to 11.

"We kind of got stalled there in the first half," Boller said. "We just executed. I saw the field well, the receivers ran great routes, my offensive line did a fabulous job of blocking. Each week, I feel more comfortable out there. "It's getting easier and easier for me. I'm the quarterback. It's my job to go out there and lead the team."

Down 3-0 in the third quarter, Boller completed 6 of 7 passes on a 78-yard drive. He found tight end Darnell Dinkins, a former practice-squad member, twice for first downs and capped the march with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Dinkins for the Ravens' first lead with 6:53 remaining in the third quarte

r. Dinkins' one-handed slam dunk on the crossbar seemed to signal that the tempo of the game had been reversed from a first half.

Before halftime, Baltimore was limited to 111 yards as Smith was the leading rusher with 12 yards despite breaking his tibia and ending his season.

"My number was called, and Terry was down," Dinkins said of Terry Jones, who was deactivated with a shoulder injury. "I never doubted myself. We all get paid to make plays in this league." Testaverde, the Ravens' first quarterback and all-time leading passer, reverted to form. He stared down his primary read, Keyshawn Johnson, and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed capitalized. Reed's team-high sixth interception of the season set up another scoring drive engineered by Boller.

First, Boller located Travis Taylor for 19 yards. Then, he victimized former Ravens' practice squad cornerback Lance Frazier by hitting Johnson up the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown pass.

An undrafted rookie, Frazier was selectively targeted throughout the game, and he couldn't handle the unwanted attention.

"Nothing against him, but he was the guy we were going to go after," Boller said. "Our receivers ran some great routes on him, and all I had to do was put the ball there."

For the 41-year-old Testaverde, it was a lot more complicated. He stubbornly forced the football into heavy traffic and was intercepted twice.

"I was disappointed with the way we played in the second half," Testaverde said. "I was also disappointed with myself."

Testaverde injured his right shoulder on his final interception, a pass intended for Keyshawn Johnson that wound up in the hands of Ravens nickel back Chad Williams. Williams dashed 44 yards for a touchdown to stake Baltimore to a 24-3 lead one series after Matt Stover's 50-yard field goal.

"We know when he's on he's on," Williams said after returning the Ravens' fourth defensive touchdown of the season. "When he's off, he's off."

Testaverde completed only 9 of 22 passes for 109 yards, no touchdowns and a putrid 18.9 passer rating before rookie Drew Hensen was inserted. "You could tell he was frustrated," cornerback Gary Baxter said of Testaverde. "He was trying to make throws that quarterbacks normally don't throw and that's how we were able to get our hands on a lot of balls."

In Hensen's first NFL play, he fumbled on a hit from defensive end Marques Douglas and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs pounced on the football. "The red light comes on," Suggs said regarding the awareness of having an inexperienced quarterback facing the fourth-ranked defense in the NFL. "A rookie doesn't really know what he's looking at."

Two plays later, Chester Taylor dove over the top for a 1-yard touchdown and a commanding 30-3 advantage with 9:49 remaining.

In the final minutes, Hensen led a 16-play, 80-yard drive that he capped with his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard pass to tight end Jeff Robinson.

Overall, the Ravens excelled considering they were without Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, nickel back Deion Sanders and tight end Todd Heap.

The defense allowed 222 net yards, allowing 3.4 yards per play while forcing three turnovers. "Our intensity is so high right, now, especially in the second half," said linebacker Ed Hartwell, who led the Ravens with 13 tackles. "I don't see a lot of teams that can match it."

Lewis left the game in the first quarter after rushing for 5 yards on two carries. He rode the bicycle in hope of being able to spell Taylor, but wasn't really needed.

Not with Boller making progress for the second week in a row, and a relentless defense that flustered Testaverde then knocked him out. The Ravens improved to 4-1 at home, 11-2 in Baltimore since the start of last season.

"It didn't feel that bad, I could have went back in, but we were up," Lewis said. "No, I don't anticipate missing next week."

Now, the Ravens prepare to head to New England to play the defending Super Bowl champions.

"Our team is playing very well right now," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We're playing stifling defense and our offense is coming around. Kyle is really coming around. I think we're playing at a nice level."

Over the last four games, Boller has thrown for 810 yards and five touchdowns with one interception.

"When the offense starts taking charge, when a quarterback gets his confidence, that's huge," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "Boller gave us something to rally around. He's my quarterback."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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